What must global warming negotiations in South Africa accomplish (Part 3)?

Image removed.One year ago, countries rallied around the Cancun Agreements with multiple standing ovations and strong words of support.  While these agreements are not sufficient by themselves to fully address global warming, there are several key elements which establish a foundation for international action on global warming.  Since Cancun, countries have been working to turn those agreements into operational guidelines and institutions to help ensure that countries are meeting their emissions reduction commitments, helping to mobilize resources to assist developing countries in reducing emissions and building stronger resilience to the impacts of global warming, and ensuring that these actions are the floor and not the ceiling of their efforts.  In Durban, countries must turn standing ovations into guidelines and institutions that help the world combat global warming.

[This is Part 3 of a three part series of posts on the global warming negotiations in Durban.  Part 1 discussed some emerging good news of action on-the-ground, troubling signs which confirm that we must act now, and how countries must be able to “multitask” in Durban.  Part 2 discussed the state of play on the main narrative of the meeting in Durban – the “fate of the Kyoto Protocol” and “where we are headed”.]      

The Cancun Agreements included: (1) commitments by key countries to take action to reduce emissions; (2) systems to improve transparency and accountability; (3) creation of a “Green Climate Fund” to help mobilize significant investments in developing countries to address climate change, and (4) progress on helping reduce deforestation emissions, speed up the deployment of clean energy, and assisting the most vulnerable in becoming more resilient to the impacts of global warming; and (5) mechanisms to ensure that these agreements are the “floor” of global action. 

Breathing life into these agreements was to be one of the key aspects of the negotiation leading into Durban.  If countries can resolve the major political issue (see Part 2) confronting Durban then these implementation details are ripe for agreement.  (For more details on each of these listen to my recent webinar for Yale University and see the presentation from this event).

COMMITMENTS TO REDUCE EMISSIONS: Making Progress to Address the Problem 

Developed and developing countries accounting for over 80% of the world’s global warming pollution made specific commitments to reduce their emissions in Copenhagen and Cancun.  Unfortunately, at this stage the commitments of countries are putting us on the precipice of very damaging global warming.  Deeper actions are required if we are to avoid the extreme weather and other damages that scientists predict will occur. 

However, we are starting to have some greater clarity in key countries about the actions they’ll implement to reduce emissions.  For example, the US has new car standards, new appliance efficiency standards, and is developing carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants.  China has begun to release detailed rules and regulations for the implementation of their energy and carbon intensity targets, including new policies to significantly ramp-up solar energy.  The Australian government has passed their national climate law with a price on carbon and firm limits on the carbon pollution from the largest polluters.  Brazil is facing a crucial test on its efforts to address deforestation as some agricultural interests have pushed for a weakening of the their landmark “Forest Law” prior to the country hosting world leaders for the Earth Summit in June 2012.  India is moving forward with efforts to significantly scale-up solar power as a part of their effort to reduce their carbon intensity.

Ideally countries would come to Durban and outline in detail the steps they are taking to reduce their emissions.  They would speak to the new set of laws they have implemented since Copenhagen and Cancun, the additional steps they plan to take, and how much progress they have made to meet their commitments.  Unfortunately, this critical aspect is only undertaken in the side presentations and corridor discussions.  The transparency and accountability provisions thus have become a critical tool in tracking this progress.  This must change as we can’t have a Ministerial level negotiation on global warming where countries don’t have to outline their actions to reduce pollution.  The spotlight must shine on those that are living up to their commitments and those that are falling behind.

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: Developed and Developing Countries

In Cancun countries decided to specific details on how to increase the transparency and accountability of their emission reduction actions and financial support.  More countries understand the importance of resolving these issues and detailed guidelines have been proposed by a number of countries.  Following from Cancun NRDC provided specific recommendations on how this agreement could be implemented on-the-ground for developed and developing countries.

In Durban, it is critical that developed country flesh out the:

  1. details that will be in their biennial reports including information on their emissions, actions, the financial support they provide to developing countries, and how the ensure data credibility;
  2. provisions to build upon existing reporting so that the current rules are the minimum standard that is required; and
  3. rules for strengthened international review of developed country reporting and the new international assessment of developed country actions (the “International Assessment and Review”).

For developing country, it is essential that countries spell out in Durban the:

  1. time series for greenhouse gas emissions data that they’ll report (e.g., at least 2010 in the first report, with additional historic data);
  2. details that will be in their biennial reports including detailed information on their greenhouse gas emissions, a detailed description of mitigation actions planned and implemented, the status of implementation of the country’s emissions reduction actions, and information on the country’s process for domestic collection and validation of reported data;
  3. Guidelines to inform how the country performs domestic data collection and validation; and
  4. rules for the new international analysis and consultation of developing country emissions and actions (the “International Consultation and Analysis”).

It is also important that developed countries provide greater details on the funding that they’ll provide aid developing countries in the development of the biennial reports. 

While countries aren’t in complete agreement on these details at this stage, some emerging agreement arose from the last session in Panama.  It will be crucial that countries resolve these issues quickly in Durban as it shouldn’t be necessary to have Ministers resolve these issues.  Without progress on fleshing out the details on these provisions a number of countries are likely to block progress on other elements of a “Durban Agreement”. 

CREATION OF A “GREEN CLIMATE FUND”: Helping mobilize investments in developing countries

In Cancun, countries agreed to develop a new multilateral fund to help invest in developing country emissions reduction and adaptation actions.  The Transitional Committee – the group of 40 representatives that was tasked to craft the rules for this new fund – has proposed a “governing document” that would establish a board to oversee the new fund, guide the operation of the fund, and ensure strong financial and environmental safeguards.  The U.S. and Saudi Arabia blocked consensus on this governing document at the last meeting of the Transitional Committee in Cape Town.  It will critical to resolve the outstanding issues early so that the Fund doesn’t become a jumbled mess that gets watered down to the point where it can’t be agreed.  Important details will still need to be worked out next year by the Board as it draws up the strong details for the operation of the Fund.  

There is also an important debate emerging around whether Durban can launch a more formal negotiation on how to generate sizeable and sustainable funding for the medium- and long-term.  International transportation, as the World Bank notes, is shaping up to be a very promising route to scale-up resources, while at the same time addressing emissions from one of the fastest growing sources.  The US and some developing countries have blocked the beginning of a negotiation on generating finance from international transport (e.g., aviation and shipping).  It is well past time for them to remove their resistance and help develop a global approach to reducing emissions in these sectors that also generates finance.

SPURRING LOW-CARBON ENERGY DEPLOYMENT: Removing policy, technical, and finance barriers to low-carbon energy deployment in the developing world

In Cancun, countries agreed to establish a “technology center and network” to help speed up the deployment of low-carbon energy in the developing world.  This is an important tool in removing key barriers to low-carbon energy deployment.  It would provide technical, financial, and other expertise to help developing countries.  If implemented right it would lead to larger demand for low-carbon energy.  No longer would policymakers, companies, or financial institutions be able to say: “we don’t know how to do that, the policies aren’t right, or we can’t access financing”. 

In Durban countries must launch the call for eligible entities to submit detailed proposals for how they will operate such a new technology center and network.  A number of countries have announced an interest in hosting one of the regional networks so there is obvious support for this new platform.  Countries must launch the “centers and networks” so that this concept can be quickly turned from concept into reality.  As the new International Energy Agency analysis shows, we don’t have time to wait to start to deploy low carbon energy.  Right now countries are building the infrastructure that will lock in emissions for the next several decades.     

REVIEWING PROGRESS: Ensuring that current actions are the “floor”

In the Cancun Agreements, countries agreed to begin a formal “review” of the actions in 2013 with the review to be completed by 2015.  This little noticed provision should play a critical role in ensuring that the current actions are the “floor” not the ceiling over the next decade.  Some countries are positing that additional actions will only be taken after 2020.***  While it is important that action begins now, we must also ensure that countries are deepening their actions before 2020.  If we wait until then to change direction it could be very dangerous, as the International Energy Agency analysis points out. [Our friends at WRI have a good post with more details.]


There are positive signs emerging that countries are taking real action to spur low-carbon societies.  At the same time there are troubling signs that if we don’t act quickly and with even more gusto then we all might be headed for dangerous territory. 

In Durban, countries must prove that they can multitask by addressing the “Fate of the Kyoto Protocol” and “where we are headed”, while demonstrating that they can implement the agreements they reached in Cancun, Mexico.  Countries proved in Cancun that they can rally around a package of agreements which can begin to help address global warming.  Now it is critical that they show that they can act.  After all, deeds are more powerful than words.

* Photo credit:  Picture of Planet Earth, courtesy of woodleywonderworks.

* *This is an update of the current state of play from a post at the lead-in global warming negotiations held in Panama.

*** Reports have emerged that countries are only looking to a legally binding commitment for their targets beyond 2020 has generated some pushback from some of the most vulnerable countries and some clarifications from key countries.